Outsource Your Phone System

Integrus Brand Solutions Inc., a marketing and promotions firm based near Toronto, Canada, is typical of a lot of small businesses. It lives by the phone. Voice communication is absolutely vital to most of its 50 or so employees.

Like a lot of small businesses, Integrus invested some years ago in an expensive PBX (Private Branch eXchange) phone system from Nortel Networks, and paid contractors to maintain and service it because the firm has no in-house telecom expertise.

When that system began to get a little long in the tooth and no longer offered all the latest features, Integrus started looking for a new solution. But when decision time came, Integrus made a bold departure.

Instead of buying a new on-premise phone system, the firm chose a hosted IP PBX service from Primus Telecommunications Canada. Capital investment required: zero. In-house technical expertise required: none.

Hosted IP PBX services – available from several regional and national providers in the U.S., including Primus – are a relatively new phenomenon, but for small businesses especially, they offer significant advantages.

Integrus pays $40 to $50 per month for each employee. The price includes IP phone sets (some are more expensive – hence the difference in monthly fees), local dial tone delivered over a dedicated T-1 line connected to Primus’s central office and rich IP PBX functionality.

The firm considered updating its Nortel Meridian PBX, but balked at the capital outlay required. It also wanted some features that only IP (Internet protocol) telephony could provide, such as unified messaging – voice mail delivered to an e-mail box – and softphones, software that turns a headset-equipped laptop into a phone that can be used anywhere as if it were attached to the PBX.

Integrus could have had these features with an IP-based on-premise system, but in the end, going with a hosted solution made more sense. In fact, it was a no-brainer.

Big Cost Savings

Justin Aniballi, advisor to the president of Integrus, compared the all-in cost of the Nortel solution that Bell Canada was offering, amortized over three years, to the cost of the Primus service for the same three years. The Primus solution was 25 percent cheaper.

“Plus we were looking at no capital outlay, easier implementation and the fact that it had all the VoIP features we wanted,” Aniballi said. “Mainly though it came down to a purely economic decision.”

We’ve written on this site in the past about small business/SOHO virtual PBX solutions, from providers such as Phone.com and GotVMail, that may sound similar. Like Primus Canada’s Hosted PBX service, they offer big-firm PBX functionality – auto attendant, voice mail, sophisticated call routing, etc. But they’re different in important respects. 

With the Phone.com-type solutions, you also need local phone lines. These services provide you with a telephone number, often toll-free, that callers can dial to reach your company. The service provider answers the number with an auto attendant, and forwards calls over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to your local numbers, according to rules you establish.

One advantage is that you can continue to use your existing phones. But this solution really only works well for distributed businesses with employees or partners working in different locations – each of which must have a regular phone line. You also pay for incoming calls, either as part of a monthly bundle with “free” minutes, or separately by the minute.

Hosted IP PBX systems also intercept your incoming calls at their facilities. They then pass them to the appropriate extension at your premises either over a dedicated connection – as in the Integrus case – or over your high-speed Internet connection. You don’t need any regular phone lines and don’t pay for incoming calls.

You do have to commit to IP telephony, though, which may be scary for some small businesses. It was for Integrus at first.

“It’s a relatively new technology, and not considered by some to be robust enough for commercial use,” Aniballi observed. This is a perception that some would argue is now outdated, but it remains widely held. It didn’t stop Integrus in the end. “I’d had good experience with IP [at a previous employer],” he explained.

Going with a hosted IP PBX service in many cases also means investing in new IP-based phone sets, which can cost anywhere from $60 to $250 each. But Primus is unusual in including phones in the monthly fees.

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